Positive Organizing Shero: Mona Jessi
March 29, 2018
Mona Jessi has been living with HIV since 1999 and she has not let her diagnosis slow her down. Instead, she is powerhouse advocate who trains other women living with HIV in Texas to be their advocates. She is an active member of PWN-USA's Texas chapter and serves on her Ryan White Planning Council.
We were excited to connect with Mona to learn more about her work, her motivations, and future goals.
This interview is a part of the series Positive Organizing Sheroes - Highlighting Women Making a Difference.
How did you get involved in the HIV field?
I actually became involved in the early days of my diagnosis; because I didn't have a clue on where to go or what to do. In June of 1999 I received a telephone call from my Primary Care Physician informing me that I tested positive for HIV. WOW! Home alone, and thinking this is a death sentence I did not have a clue on next steps and neither did the physician. He actually told me he wouldn't be able to treat me and I would have to go somewhere else ... "somewhere else," really? I had the wherewithal to look for help via the information operator. The few 800 area code numbers I received were not in Michigan where I was; they were in California. That was not a good feeling at all. I fell to my knees on the bathroom floor. Thank God I didn't feel so bad that I committed suicide.
My hope is no one ever goes through an HIV/AIDS diagnosis alone; that from the start there would be a warm emphatic person to walk and talk with them on the Journey. This is the why; why I am committed to being involved.
When I relocated to Texas I plugged in to many organizations that had activities for PLWH/A. Those activities soon died and some of the agencies did as well. Today, the good news is we have a strong resurgence of events and activities in Texas. I am a graduate of the first POP (Positive Organizing Project) class in Houston, Texas. This class prepared me for meaningful involvement in advocacy for political, educational and leadership arenas. I am involved with The Ryan White Planning Council serving on the Affected Community Committee; I am a graduate of L.E.A.P. (Learning, Empowerment, Advocacy, Participation), which is a comprehensive advocacy training program for PLWH/A. hosted by The Ryan White Planning Council's Office of Support. Last but certainly not least I am an active member of PWN (Positive Women's Network) Texas Chapter serving as the SCAT (Strategic, Communications, Action, Team) representative for the Houston Area.
Tell me about PWN TX Leadership Training coordinated through your Positive Organizing Project grant.
PWN TX Leadership Training which was coordinated through the Positive Organizing Project grant was an awesome 3 day experience that took place in Dallas Texas. I was trained in Effective Leadership, Denver Principles, Advocacy, MIPA/GIPA, Stigmatizing Language, HIV Criminalization and Political Education. I was trained to present on these subjects, which will support and equip PLWH/A to find their voice to become engaged in advocacy, increase their understanding in areas of meaningful involvement and learn of the resources available to them. Our presentations are approximately 3 hours a day for 3 days. We just completed our first training and a second one is scheduled in early April. I'm so excited about the opportunity to educate and help others who are just like me; and this also applies to our alias. I feel that we need all the help we can get.
On Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, what do you want people to know about HIV?
I believe this is our 13th year of Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day. Women are so so busy taking care of everyone else and often neglect self-care. March 10th is the national day of observance and it is such a plus for women and girls to be recognized. Mainly we host events to empower women and girls. We hosted an event with the senior class of Cesar Chavez Mexican American charter school located in Houston Texas. This event was unique because it included the entire senior class. The students were provided with an interactive Sex Education presentation by a Gilead pharmaceutical rep that provided a healthy lunch. We broke up into small groups by gender which provided a safe and non-restrictive environment for the students to have a frank and lively conversation on topics of relationships, abuse, safe sex practices, including myths and facts around HIV/AIDS.
Why is it important to start talking about HIV?
OMG! Conversations around HIV are an avenue to encourage the elimination of stigmatizing language; which promotes shame, fear, guilt and isolation. There are many intersections around HIV education; such as education on HIV Criminalization, what that looks like nationally, government and public policies. This is the good; having the courage to speak up and if necessary, act up on uncomfortable topics.
How do you stay motivated in this work?
Well when you have a Venita Ray as your neighbor it is fundamentally impossible not to be motivated and did I say involved meaningful involvement is basically what promotes the motivation!
[Note from TheBody: This article was originally published by AIDS United on March 29, 2018. We have cross-posted it with their permission.]
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